Sri Lankan civilians living in rebel-held areas are facing severe shortages of food, shelter and clean water due to government restrictions on aid workers in the region, an international rights group said Tuesday.
The report from New York-based Human Rights Watch came amid a major government offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels that has sparked bloody battles across the north and displaced more than 200,000 civilians, according to aid groups.
Government troops launched a concerted attack against rebel fortifications Monday that killed 57 insurgents and 10 soldiers, the military said. The Tamil Tigers said more than 100 soldiers were killed in the fighting.
With violence escalating in recent months, the government forced nearly all foreign aid workers to evacuate from rebel-held areas in September. Since then, it has allowed convoys of international aid into the area.
But there have been major shortfalls in food deliveries in recent months, with as little as 40 percent of the required aid reaching those in need, Human Rights Watch said in the report. In addition, tens of thousands of families require temporary shelters but the government will not allow aid groups to send in the needed supplies, even after a November cyclone destroyed the shelters of at least 60,000 people, the report said.
The civilians are also facing shortages of water and sanitation supplies, the group said, calling on the government to urgently let the aid groups return to the north.
Government officials said they were working tirelessly to get aid to the civilians in the area amid the fighting.
"The actual situation is tense and it is complicated but with these complications we are doing are best," said defense spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella.
Human Rights Watch also criticized the government’s treatment of the estimated 1,000 civilians who managed to cross the front lines and flee the rebel areas known as the Vanni. The report accused the government, which has repeatedly called on civilians to flee to government-controlled areas, of arbitrarily detaining those that do.